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Former Baltimore County executive: The Sun needs local ownership | COMMENTARY

Mike Ball a pressman in The Baltimore Sun printing plant pulls a freshly printed paper off the conveyor for a quality control check.
Mike Ball a pressman in The Baltimore Sun printing plant pulls a freshly printed paper off the conveyor for a quality control check.

If a city loses its professional sports teams, it loses its spirit. If a city loses its newspapers, it loses its soul. We fight to keep our ballclubs. It’s time to fight to keep our newspaper.

Why should we care what happens to The Baltimore Sun? Think of what a newspaper tells us in the course of a day or a week: what’s happening to the school budget, who’s trying to sneak through zoning for a big development; what caused the traffic jam on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge; who won the last election and who’s running in the next one. How about exposing the corruption that led to the separate convictions of a Democratic mayor (Catherine Pugh) and governor (Marvin Mandel)? How about stirring civic pride by slamming a Republican president who called our city “rat infested”?

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Reporters working for the newspapers not only keep politicians honest, they keep us grounded. I know. I was there once as a former Baltimore County executive. These reporters show our mistakes, but they give us hope — hope that we can better serve our communities with the leadership and integrity they deserve. Maybe not a shining city on a hill, but an extraordinary city on a harbor.

The newspaper is not just about the politicians and the pandemics; it’s also about culture and food and entertainment. And it’s about you and your family. How about your kid’s Little League photo that you clipped? Or your son’s graduation ceremony or your daughter’s wedding? Hey, I still have a yellowing photo of me wearing a cardboard excuse for a football helmet playing for the Red Shield Boys Club in Highlandtown. Never had a chance to thank the local newspaper for capturing such an enduring moment.

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When Baltimore lost the Colts, the city and region worked like hell to get a team back. We lobbied. We organized. Investors signed up to fund the purchase. We bought seat licenses and season tickets. Finally, we got a team from Cleveland — a city that, by the way, is experiencing its own newspaper crisis as its historic paper, The Plain Dealer, makes harsh stuff cuts due to financial pressures.

And, of course, that’s the problem. Cities and towns across the country are seeing their newspapers shrink into irrelevance or disappear altogether. The digital technology has taken its toll, diversifying the distribution of news. There is nothing wrong or unusual in this social transformation; television and radio disrupted the news business as they took hold.

Friends often complain to me about the newspaper. They certainly don’t agree with it all the time. Neither do I. In fact, there are times I get downright angry at the articles I read because I disagree, see it from a different angle, would have made a different call. But I don’t stop going to ballgames because I don’t agree with the ump when I think he makes a bad call. Would we play the game without an ump? Of course not. We need the watchful eyes calling it like they see it and keeping the game honest and fair.

If we lose our newspaper, we announce to the nation that Baltimore is no longer a big-league city. Here’s a chance to do something noble for our town. Now is the time to rally around the paper. To save it from the corporate demands for profit and restore it to local ownership.

There is a movement to save The Sun. The Abell Foundation, headed by Robert C. Embry, one of the city’s most respected civic leaders, led previous efforts to buy The Sun from each of its previous owners. The Abell Foundation has again expressed interest to the current owners, Tribune Publishing, concerning the sale of the paper, along with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild leaders, founders of KO Public Affairs, The Goldseker Foundation and other individuals. All have joined together as the Coalition to Save Our Sun (www.saveourbaltimoresun.com) to encourage the Tribune board of directors to engage in conversations about selling the paper.

If successful, the objective would be to transform the paper to a locally owned, nonprofit publication — free of shareholder dividends, excessive executive salaries and burdensome debt payments. A similar arrangement has shown promise in Philadelphia, where a foundation now owns The Philadelphia Inquirer.

By the way, those of you who have fallen for the canard that newspapers are the enemy of the people are also free to participate. If you don’t want to read it, use it to wrap your crabs. We are all in this together: readers, non-readers, petition signers, donors and the crabs.

Save our Sun!

Ted Venetoulis (ted.venetoulis@gmail.com), a businessman and former Baltimore County Executive, is the owner of H&V Publications. Prior to this, he was the publisher and owner of Times Publishing Group, which published weekly community newspapers, all of which are now owned by The Baltimore Sun.

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